Despite a lack of medical evidence to support its therapeutic efficacy, the use of herbal medicine has increased considerably. Ginseng, one of the most widely used herbs, is hypothesized to play a role in carbohydrate metabolism and diabetes mellitus. We therefore undertook a preliminary short-term clinical study to assess whether American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius L) affects postprandial glycemia in humans.
On 4 separate occasions, 10 nondiabetic subjects (mean [±SD] age, 34±7 years; mean [±SD] body mass index [BMI], 25.6 ± 3 kg/m2) and 9 subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus (mean [±SD] age, 62 ± 7 years; mean [±SD] BMI, 29 ± 5 kg/m2; mean [±SD] glycosylated hemoglobin A1c, 0.08±0.005) were randomized to receive 3-g ginseng or placebo capsules, either 40 minutes before or together with a 25-g oral glucose challenge. The placebo capsules contained corn flour, in which the quantity of carbohydrate and appearance matched the ginseng capsules. A capillary blood sample was taken fasting and then at 15, 30, 45, 60, 90, and 120 (only for subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus) minutes after the glucose challenge.
In nondiabetic subjects, no differences were found in postprandial glycemia between placebo and ginseng when administered together with the glucose challenge. When ginseng was taken 40 minutes before the glucose challenge, significant reductions were observed (P<.05). In subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus, the same was true whether capsules were taken before or together with the glucose challenge (P<.05). Reductions in area under the glycemic curve were 18%±31% for nondiabetic subjects and 19±22% and 22±17% for subjects with type 2 diabetes mellitus administered before or together with the glucose challenge, respectively.
American ginseng attenuated postprandial glycemia in both study groups. For nondiabetic subjects, to prevent unintended hypoglycemia it may be important that the American ginseng be taken with the meal.